Love Jihad

The sixth short story submitted to the TOI Write India competition. For the other stories click here

Author Prompt

“Love Jihad

Syed and Gayatri didn’t mean to fall in love. But love happens when you least expect it. It creeps up suddenly. When someone needs attention, care, conversation, laughter and maybe even intimacy. Love doesn’t look at logic, or at backgrounds and least of all, religion.

Gayatri was from a very conservative South Indian family that went to a temple every Saturday. Syed bought goats for his family every Eid. That said it all. Their paths would never have crossed if it hadn’t been for that fateful day. That day when he walked into the coffee shop. Gayatri wondered if destiny chose our loved ones for us. Did we have any role to play at all?

She looked at her watch. Syed was late. They met every Thursday at five pm to catch up. Their conversation lasted for hours. Sometimes at the cafe, sometimes in his car, sometimes in places that she could never tell her friends about. They would never understand. And yet Syed made her happy.

Suddenly her phone beeped. He had sent a message. “On my way. Have something important to tell you.”

Gayatri stared at it and realised she had knots in her stomach. Thoughts flooded her mind. What did he want to tell her?” by Madhuri Bannerjee  (For more about the contest/rules click here).

 

Love Jihad

Syed and Gayatri didn’t mean to fall in love. But love happens when you least expect it. It creeps up suddenly. When someone needs attention, care, conversation, laughter and maybe even intimacy. Love doesn’t look at logic, or at backgrounds and least of all, religion.

Gayatri was from a very conservative South Indian family that went to a temple every Saturday. Syed bought goats for his family every Eid. That said it all. Their paths would never have crossed if it hadn’t been for that fateful day. That day when he walked into the coffee shop. Gayatri wondered if destiny chose our loved ones for us. Did we have any role to play at all?

She looked at her watch. Syed was late. They met every Thursday at five pm to catch up. Their conversation lasted for hours. Sometimes at the cafe, sometimes in his car, sometimes in places that she could never tell her friends about. They would never understand. And yet Syed made her happy.

Suddenly her phone beeped. He had sent a message. “On my way. Have something important to tell you.”

Gayatri stared at it and realised she had knots in her stomach. Thoughts flooded her mind. What did he want to tell her? Had he talked to his parents? What had they said? Was he coming to break off with her? What else could he do? Even her parent would never accept their illicit love.

No! Love could never be illicit.

Yet Gayatri couldn’t see the way out. She shuddered – how could she choose between her parents and her love? Or expect him to? So where did that leave them? Nowhere unless they ran away, leaving their parents to face the brunt of societal ire and agony of betrayal. But they couldn’t do that could they? The knots in her stomach tightened and she struggled for composure.

“Hi!” Syed broke into her thoughts as he slid into the seat opposite her. Heart thudding, she stared at him. She wished she could throw herself into his arms and let them close out the world. She didn’t need anything, anyone, hysteria bubbled up within her. “Where the hell have you been?” She couldn’t help herself. “I have been waiting and waiting. Worrying about us, and on top of it you are so late…”

Syed reached out and put a finger on her lips. “Shush. How can a doctor berate another doctor for being late? I was busy saving lives dammit!” He winked as he pressed a quick kiss on her clenched fist.

Gayatri stilled. Her eyes fluttered as she involuntarily cast a look around the cafe. What was wrong with him? He was not one for public displays of affection. And the look in his eyes! She flushed a beetroot red – yet the world, the society faded into the background. It was just them.

“What important thing?”

He clasped her hand. “Will you marry me?”

Her fingers tightened involuntarily on his. “Are you crazy? What about…”

“Look what Ammi sent.” He opened a box. “Her engagement ring. With her blessings.” He took it out and slid it on her finger. “It fits!” he gave her hand a tight squeeze before releasing it and leaning back into his seat. “I need a coffee!” He signaled for two cups and grinned at her. “What’s the matter?” His voice was innocent. “Don’t like the ring or don’t want to marry me?” He waggled his eyes at her looking smug and confident.

Gayatri worried the ring on her finger which felt odd yet right. “It’s not so simple Syed and you know it.”

“Don’t be so negative Gayatri!” He chided her. “Ammi agreed didn’t she? Your Amma too will.” He cast her a knowing look. “Once you gather the guts to talk to her of course.” He paused as the waiter placed their order. “Or should I…”

“Stop it Syed!” Gayatri was irritated. “One swallow does not a summer make. Just because your mother agreed doesn’t mean anything. What about your father? What about the others?” She looked away. “Does your mother know that I wont change my religion?”

“She does.”

“And?”

He shrugged. “And nothing. I told you she is okay with this marriage. She has given her blessings and taken responsibility for convincing my father, the others. You manage your family.”

Gayatri shook her head. “I don’t believe you. How could she agree? She doesn’t even know me.”

Syed smiled. “But she knows me!”

“Oh stop treating this as some kind of a joke dammit!”

“First you stop making it into a Laila-Majnu tragedy. For your information, this is the 21st Century.”

Gayatri clenched her fists. “Syed, I…”

“Okay!” He raised his hands. “Look, how about you meet my mother and see for yourself?”

Two days later, she was at Syed’s house. Since Syed couldn’t get leave, she was here all alone, nervous and tense. But Syed had assured her of a warm welcome. “I promise you will love her.”

Yeah, right.

“Come in dear. You are Gayatri aren’t you?” A beaming elegant middle-aged lady opened the door. “I am Ayesha, Syed’s mother.

“Namaste…I mean good afternoon Ma’am.”

“Namaste, Namaste. Come in and make yourself comfortable. Don’t worry there’s just us. Here have a glass of aam panna. It’s so hot, I thought this would be refreshing.” She bustled about busily around their cozy house. She carried in a tray loaded with goodies. “No, no you sit. I had it all ready before you came so that we could chat in peace.” She sat down across her. “Here, try this.” She held out a plate of cutlets. “Don’t worry Gayatri, it’s pure vegetarian. No onion or garlic. I even used a new frying pan.”

Tears started in Gayatri’s eyes. She just couldn’t help it. She sank down on the floor beside the baffled lady, put her head on her lap and bawled like a baby.

Ayesha let her cry for a while before forcing her up. “Enough of crying now. Go and wash up, while I make a cup of tea. Or do you prefer coffee?”

The tears started again. Gayatri controlled herself with an effort. “Tea is fine.” She managed a weak smile.

“Good. Wash your face and come into the kitchen.”

“I am sorry.” Gayatri stood behind Ayesha, pleating the edge of her dupatta. “I was very stressed and worried, you were so kind, so accepting.” she choked. “My parents…” She broke off.

“Have you talked to them?”

Gayatri shook her head. “I know they will never agree.”

Ayesha was silent, intent on the pan of boiling water.

Gayatri reached out and turned off the gas.

Ayesha started and busied herself with the tea. “Strange, how our past comes back to haunt us at the most unexpected of ways,” mused Ayesha with a twisted smile. “You could be me, three decades ago.”

“I don’t understand.”

Ayesha wore a faraway look. “When I was about your age, I was madly desperately in love with Indrajit, my childhood friend, classmate and constant companion.”

Gayatri stared.

“Nobody stopped us from playing together and we didn’t even know when we fell in love. And by then it was too late. Yet, marriage was out of the question.” Ayesha paused. “Actually, that is my greatest regret. That we didn’t even ask our parents – who knows what they would have said?”

She strained the tea and allowed Gayatri to carry the tray to the sitting room.

“What happened?”

Ayesha shrugged. “The usual. I cried, he cried. He got married. I got married and we both got on with our lives.” She smiled. “You know, you are the first person I have ever told this to. Nobody else knows, not Syed, nor his father.”

“And that is why you agreed to let your son marry me.” It was a statement not a question.

“Yes, perhaps.” An odd expression flitted across her face.

“What?” Gayatri asked.

“Indrajit has a daughter. Her name is Gayatri.”

Gayatri’s eyes widened.

Ayesha smiled. “When Syed told me, I took it as a sign, a gentle rebuke if I may call it that. I shouldn’t have given up so easily then. It was time to make amends. If not me, at least my son could have the happiness that I couldn’t.” She reached out and clasped Gayatri’s hand. “Don’t do what I did. Don’t give up so easily. Talk to your parents. At least you would have tried.”

Gayatri nodded. “Yes I will. Thank you,” she hesitated, “Ammi.”

Ayesha enfolded her in a warm embrace. “Bless you my dear. If it is meant to be, it will happen. But you have to at least try.”

Armed with these words, Gayatri took the bull by its horns and confronted her parents.

“Amma, Appa can I talk to you?”

“Yes?” Her father muted the TV and shot a look at his wife who shrugged.

“I…I love this guy and we want to get married.” She paled and her breath hitched in her throat but she gritted her teeth and continued, “his name is Syed.”

“You want to marry a meat eating scoundrel!” There was a crash as the remote hit the TV screen. Gayatri’s mother shot to her feet and slapped her. “Over my dead body.”

Gayatri’s neck snapped and she put a hand to her bruised cheek. But she held her ground. “Please Appa, he is not a scoundrel. He is also a doctor, senior to me, well-settled, good family, even his mother has agreed. And I won’t have to change my religion, eat meat…”

“Meenakshi,” roared Ravi, “tell that girl to shut up or I will murder her right now.”

“Appa,” stunned, Gayatri pleaded, “listen to me please. Just meet him once…”

Ravi strode off and returned brandishing a knife.

“Ravi!”

“Appa!”

They ran towards him but he waved them away. “One step forward and I will slash my wrists,” he positioned the knife. “Gayatri, do you swear never to talk about this thing again? Swear, otherwise I will kill myself.” He lowered the knife over his wrist.

“Appa please don’t, Appa,” Gayatri was weeping hysterically while her equally panic stricken mother berated her, “What are waiting for you wicked girl? Promise him! Promise him before he hurts himself. Gayatri does your father’s life mean nothing to you? You ungrateful wretch,” her mother shook her till her teeth rattled. “Is this why we brought you up, so that you could make us the laughing stock of our society? Is this any way to repay your parents’ debt?”

“Appa please just listen to me…

“Gayatri, I am asking you one last time.” Ravi touched the knife to his wrist and began slashing motions.

“Appa!” Gayatri shrieked. “I promise Appa, I promise. But let me meet him once, just once to explain, please Appa.”

“Fine.” Ravi nodded. “Only once. And you can invite him to your wedding next Saturday.” He threw the knife down and walked off.

“Amma! What is this about my wedding? To whom and so quickly?”

“To the first guy your father approves of, what else.” Meenaskhi too flounced out of the room.

***

“Please try and understand Syed,” a tearful Gayatri pleaded as Syed turned his back upon her, “please don’t ask me to choose you over my parents. I wouldn’t be able to live with being the cause of…”

Syed turned back and squeezed her hands before releasing them. “I am not. I am just trying to accept the situation.” His throat worked.

“What else can we do?” Gayatri said dully. “Nothing has changed in three decades.”

“What?”

“Nothing.” Gayatri shook her head. “Appa fixed my wedding. I have no choice but to go ahead with it. You also get married and forget that…” She wept bitter tears for one last time in his arms.

“You do what you think is right and I will do what I think is right.” His voice was cold and implacable.

“Wh…what do you mean?”

“I will never marry anyone other than you.”

“Syed!” her voice was a mere whisper. “Please don’t do this! I will die of guilt. You should at least try to move on.”

“I cannot, Gayatri. I cannot spoil a fourth person’s life. Please do not ask me to.”

“Syed…”

“Goodbye my love.” Syed pulled her into his arms and pressed a fierce kiss on her lips. “Remember that I will always wait for you.” The next instant, he was gone.

“Syed.” Gayatri wept bitter tears. For one wild moment she contemplated jumping off the nearest high rise building – anything to be rid of this deep agonizing excruciating unbearable pain. But then her phone rang.

“Yes Appa, I told him. He has gone. Yes, Appa, I am coming home.”

True to her word, Gayatri didn’t contact Syed. Yet she couldn’t prevent herself from calling Ayesha.

“How is he?”

“How do you think? Completely shattered.” Ayesha was short.

Guilt smote Gayatri. “Please don’t be like that! I thought you would understand. I didn’t have a choice!”

“I disagree.” Ayesha’s voice was hard. “There is always a choice. You made yours. You chose your father over my son. Your father is alive. My son…” She choked.

Gayatri flared up. “How can you blame me, when you also took a similar decision?”

“That wasn’t my decision. It was Indrajit’s. He was too cowardly to face societal ire. I was ready to brave anything but he backed out.” Her voice broke. “And now you. I hope you are happy Gayatri.” She disconnected the phone.

Gayatri broke down – it wasn’t fair! She screamed silently and not for the first time. Why should so many lives be shattered because of the outdated dictates of some faceless, unknown ‘society’?

Taking no chances, Gayatri was married off to Ramesh at the next auspicious date in a quiet private ceremony followed by a gala reception. Society turned out in large droves to bless the happy couple, gush over the ostentatious arrangements and gorge on the lavish spread. Ravi and Meenakshi beamed from ear to ear as they basked in the glory of their appreciation. They heaved a sigh of relief and carried on with their lives.

A few days later, Gayatri burst into her parents’ home and threw up in the washroom.

“What the hell!” Ravi thundered. “I will kill you.” He grabbed a still retching Gayatri by the throat and shook her like a ragged doll.

“Are you crazy?” Meenakshi threw herself into the fray and dragged Gayatri away.

Meenakshi slapped her hard. “Get out you shameless woman. I never should have brought you home from the orphanage.”

Gayatri stilled as the penny dropped.

“And yet you didn’t let me marry Syed?”

“You ungrateful wretch!” Ravi charged at her.

Gayatri held up her hand. “Relax. I am not pregnant.” She looked Ravi full in the eye and said, “I threw up because Ramesh, your beloved son-in-law, insisted that I eat meat.”

So what did you think? Look forward to reading your comments, suggestions, thoughts  – thanks. Click here for more short stories or for more about the blog.

Published by

Dahlia

Email me at mysilverstreaks@gmail.com or tweet me @mysilverstreaks

18 thoughts on “Love Jihad”

  1. Loved this story. It gave me an insight into the difficulties of living in a country where religious animosities dictate life and arranged marriages are common. Although I knew about these facets of life in India and other countries reading a story where the characters become known to you makes it much more personal. It is such a difficult choice when you have to choose between parents and true love. Such a poignant, ironic ending.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Loved it! The actual punch in the story was the concluding line where the new son-in-law turns out to be a meat-eater !!! Probably the parents would’ve had a stroke after that !Hard hitting irony!! Kudos!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Drama, emotional blackmail, selfishness, fear, prejudices, pretensions, narrow-mindedness, … all these comes above their love for their daughter… but then how ironic it is that they are made to eat their own words!! Isn’t there something called “reasoning”??

    Loved your double twist in the end… call it a twist of fate, a stinging one!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a powerful tale about the glaring wrongs in society, so beautiful written and delivered. Tell me there’s a next part, for where I can see her and Syed unite. In the real life – too many innocent lovers like them meet such tragic ends because of society norms and extreme beliefs.

    I love this story, as I read word by word, investing emotions, my heart crying for these two and for many more like them. I saw the title and couldn’t help but click and I’m very glad that I did.

    Love is so pure and innocent, recognising no boundaries, blessing everyone it touches – the world will be even scarier without it.

    P.S Dear Dahlia, I’m a little confused at the ending, why were her parents livid that she is pregnant? She was married so it wasn’t like she was shaming them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for reading and your kind words – means a lot. Regarding the ending, her parents were livid because a pregnancy so soon after the wedding can only mean conception from a relationship prior to her wedding. Moreover, once her husband got to know he would also be likely to blow a fuse which could lead to further unpleasant events (such as divorce). All this would affect her parents’ ‘standing’ in society…

      Like

      1. Thanks for clearing up the last part. It saddens me that there are some parents who value their reputation in this bleak society more than their child’s joy.

        But what a slap to their faces when she delivered the last line.

        Liked by 1 person

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